Francis George Scott

August 9, 2010

Francis George Scott was born in Hawick, on 25th January, Burns Day in 1880. That seems fitting for a man that set many of Robert Burns poems to music.

He became one of the main exponents of the movement called the Scottish Renaissance, a flowering of Scotland’s creative talent in the inter-war years of the twentieth century, showcasing Scotland on the world stage.

As a young composer his songs were compared favourably to German lieder, he was hailed as a young Mussorgsky, and he was later enticed to France where he received instruction from Jean Roger-Ducasse in 1921 but he declined his subsequent offer to stay in Paris and learn at the Paris Conservatoire, preferring instead to return to Scotland.

He was a friend, teacher and mentor to Hugh MacDiarmid and helped MacDiarmid shape his masterpiece poem ‘A drunk man looks at the thistle’. Like MacDiarmid he was passionate about Scotland and he gave to the SNP his manuscript of his setting of ‘Scots wha hae’. He also set many of MacDiarmid’s poems to song.

The friendship with MacDiarmid was to be a double edged sword. MacDiarmid’s frequent eulogising of Scott as one of the best composers in the world made Scott reluctant to promote his own work.

He became Lecturer in Music at Jordanhill College in Glasgow in 1925 and remained there for 25 years.

Towards the end of his life in the 1950s, Scott, like many older people, developed senility. Nevertheless he was given a honorary degree by Glasgow University in 1957. He died in 1958, November 6th.

After years of neglect, Scott is today regarded as one of the most remarkable song composers of the twentieth century. See here.

There are only 2 current CDs of his work. Moonstruck is a CD of his songs featuring many Burns and MacDiarmid settings as well as settings of other poets like William Dunbar and William Soutar :

A superb account by Murray Mclachlan of some of his songs, transcribed by Ronald Stevenson for piano, is also found on Piano Music from Scotland :

There is a biography of the man by Maurice Lindsay : Francis George Scott and the Scottish Renaissance.

A portrait of F.G. Scott is in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh (closed for refurbishment till Autumn 2011). Its was painted by William Johnstone c. 1933. See here